Monday, September 19, 2011

Being a food animal veterinarian, day 6

Day 6. Another herd check. It’s becoming routine. To be fair, I tend to end up riding with the clinicians who do herd checks, because I want to spend these three weeks working with cows. I have so far avoided riding with the clinician who specializes in horses, because equine medicine bores me silly. I like horses, just not horse medicine. And I really like cows, who are endlessly sweet and amusing, and I like herd health, or population medicine. Put me on a farm with a few sick cows and I am perfectly happy to spend hours talking about what is wrong with farm management which is causing these cows to get sick. Ask me to actually do procedures on an individual cow and I start wondering when we are moving on to the next farm.

So. Day 6, herd check. After all the rectal palpations there is inevitably the one or two sick cows to check on, or in this case, three. One was six weeks fresh (gave birth six weeks ago). You always, always ask how fresh a cow is, or if she is not particularly fresh, how many days in milk (how long she has been giving milk, i.e., how many days ago she gave birth — I have been told things like “this cow is 510 days in milk”). They get different diseases depending on where they are in the whole calf-milk-breeding-no milk-calf cycle. This one, being six weeks fresh, should have been past any problems with her uterus recovering from labor, but was not. Which was why we were being asked to look at her. We recommended infusing her uterus with dilute iodine to get rid of the infection.

The next cow had aborted two days previously. She still had bits of placenta hanging out. Normally retained placentas clear themselves within a day or two, but this one was hanging in there a little long, especially for having quite so many pieces still stuck in. My syllabus says it is “controversial” to “manually clean” the uterus of retained placenta (i.e., go in and pull the bits out by hand). It is usually better to let nature take care of this, as upsetting as it is to see cows walking around with pink stuff dangling out of their private parts (what small animal owners inevitably refer to as “down there” and what farmers will refreshingly refer to as “vaginas”). In this case, we manually cleaned. Well, the vet cleaned, and I watched. Good times.

Sick cow #3 had some hair loss on her heels and at the head of her tail. The clinician took one look and pronounced her as having mange. We applied a parasiticide: the vet handed me a big bottle and told me to pour it along the cow’s top line. The stuff was bright purple. Now the cow was bright purple. More fun than cleaning placentas.

Farm two. A big farm, but a well run one. They were having a diarrhea problem with many of their calves (“calf scours”). We drew blood on some four day old calves to check to see if they had gotten enough antibodies from their dams in the colostrum (milk full of antibodies) that they drank in their first few hours of life. (Back at the clinic, the answer was that two of them were fine, and two of them were borderline for not having enough antibodies.) This was a great example of a herd health problem. Why were these calves getting sick? It seemed to be some management problem, but where exactly was the farm going wrong? If the calves weren’t getting enough colostrum, why not? The guy in charge of calf management spent a long time talking to the vet to try to figure it out. So far, we still have no answer. I hope they manage to find one.

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